Middle East

Tunisian army intervenes in clashes in town

A car burns during clashes between Tunisian security forces and protestors in the town of Siliana, in central Tunisia. (AFP PHOTO / FETHI BELAID)

TUNIS, Tunisia: Tunisia's army intervened Thursday in a third day of violent clashes in a northern town between police and striking residents who are demanding jobs and investment.

After two days of battles that a hospital said left more than 300 people injured, police pulled out of Siliana Wednesday night. Witnesses said 15,000 people marched through the town Thursday demanding the governor's resignation.

Police returned in the afternoon and attempted to disperse the crowd with tear gas and shotguns, sparking more violence before army units restored order, witness Mouldi Kenzizi told The Associated Press.

As the primary enforcement arm of the old dictatorship, police remain very unpopular among Tunisians, though the army is still accorded a measure of respect.

Siliana, like the towns where Tunisia's revolution started two years ago, is in the poorer interior, which has long suffered from a lack of jobs and investment - a situation that has only become worse since the overthrow of President Zine Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.

Residents said they were demonstrating Thursday in response to Prime Minister Hammadi Jebali's refusal the night before to dismiss the unpopular governor, Ahmed Mahoubi, who they say has ignored their calls for more jobs and investment. The two are both members of the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, which dominated the government following last year's elections.

A dozen people, including a 15-year-old, are at risk of losing their sight after being struck with shotgun pellets, according to a hospital.

Residents of neighboring towns joined Thursday's protest march and there were also demonstrations in solidarity with Siliana throughout the province - including attacks on police posts and headquarters of the Ennahda Party.

Siliana residents were also calling for the release of 14 people arrested 20 months ago and still being held without trial.

Tunisia's economy, based in large part on European tourism and exports, has suffered after the revolution and with the European economic crisis. On Tuesday, the World Bank approved a $500 million loan to help support reforms in the financial sector to encourage investment and growth.

 

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